Freeport man accused of setting cars, house on fire in Rockville Centre pleads not guilty

James Courtien was arrested at the intersection of Guy Lombardo Avenue and Polk Street in Freeport.

Caroline Flynn and Cecilia Dowd

Dec 6, 2023, 10:52 AM

Updated 229 days ago

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A Freeport man has pleaded not guilty to setting two cars and a house on fire in Rockville Centre.
According to detectives, a 45-year-old female and a 56-year-old male were sleeping in the second-floor bedroom of a North Forest Avenue residence when they heard a loud noise and looked out their window.
They observed both of their vehicles, a 2018 Porsche and a 2014 Dodge engulfed in flames.
Police say both victims exited the house and saw that an unknown person had set the front door on fire.
Upon arrival, police conducted a thorough investigation and located John Courtien, 57, at the intersection of Guy Lombardo Avenue and Polk Street in Freeport.
Courtien was placed under arrest. He's charged with arson and reckless endangerment.  
At his arraignment, Courtien pleaded not guilty. His attorney said that he'd been in a different location with other people.
One of his alleged victims, who wishes to remain annonymous, told News 12 a different story. 
One of the residents of the North Forest Avenue home where the incident occurred explained that he has known Courtien for a long time. He said that a friend of his had been over on Monday night. The friend was an ex-girlfriend of the 57-year-old and he was having a hard time accepting that they'd broken up. The Rockville Centre resident said Courtien believed he was dating his ex-girlfriend and that's why he targeted his home.
The man said he awoke to a loud bang and saw his vehicle on fire. He said if it wasn't for a neighbor who quickly put the fire out, the entire house that contains apartments would have been engulfed in flames.
"There were five people in the house at the time. Luckily, my neighbor put it out. If not, this house would've been on fire, and we would've been trapped cause we are on the second floor and whatever. It was scary," he explained. Courtien's bail was set at $100,000. He was ordered to stay away from his ex-girlfriend, her friend and his 20-year-old daughter who was also in the home at the time of the incident.
Mitch Kraeling said he was asleep inside the house when the fire started. He said the defendant was “on a mission to kill” him and a woman who was at the house that night. Kraeling said that woman is an ex of the defendant.
News 12 spoke with a neighbor who didn’t want to be identified. He said he gets up early for work, spotted the flames and ran over to the home. He said the mat beneath the side door was on fire, and the wood frame on the bottom of the door was on fire as well. He said he put the fire out with his foot. He said he banged on doors and got everybody out. “Thank God that I was here at the right time, and I got everybody out,” he said.
According to court documents: “The door that was set on fire was the only means of escape for the upstairs residents causing them extreme danger."
The Freeport Police chief told News 12 that when the defendant was arrested in Freeport, there was an “extreme odor of gasoline.”


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